By Danny Turner
Making your own food can be incredibly rewarding, and oftentimes a lot healthier than eating out, but many do not cook the majority of their meals. The convenience of buying premade meals or going to a restaurant is a large part of this, but many also simply lack knowledge and experience with cooking. Preparing your own food with whole ingredients will almost always result in a meal that is lower in fat, salt and sugar than an equivalent meal at a restaurant. It would be great if there was time in a patient session with a dietitian to go into details about how to buy the right ingredients, prepare them, and cook them, but unfortunately there isn’t. Some dietitians have developed cooking classes as a creative solution to this issue. I spent time with a dietitian at Children’s National Medical Center who did just that.
According to research from the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, cooking classes can make kids more likely to choose healthier food options. The program I helped develop aims to do just that. The goal is to introduce kids to new ingredients and foods, teach them a bit about nutrition, and have them learn to prepare new foods themselves! For many, this is probably the first time they will have cooked their own meal. We also wanted to find a way to provide some fresh ingredients for the kids to take home and recreate the recipes they had practiced.
I was given recipes that the dietitian had sourced and tested and was tasked with creating a lesson plan and educational materials to give to our audience. For each recipe, I wrote a sort of script for us to use. It would go over the steps of the recipe, particularly the trickier parts, and include a little bit about why the ingredients we chose were good for us. As an example, the blueberry pancake recipe we made used half white and half whole wheat flour, so we used that as a springboard to discuss making at least half of your grain choices whole grain.
To give more general advice about produce that the kids may not have tried, I created small handouts that explained what nutrients were in each fruit or vegetable, and some suggestions for easy ways to prepare them. Doing research for this even taught me a couple things. For instance, did you know that pumpkins and zucchini are the same species?
After all of the content creation, shopping and prep, we were ready to hold our class. I had a great time demoing a recipe and talking the kids through the cooking. The class was a success: everything we made turned out tasty, everybody had fun, and we didn’t even start any fires! I sincerely hope that this wonderful program continues to grow, and that dietitians keep putting in the time and effort necessary to do work like this. Cooking classes empower patients to make healthier food choices and give them a stronger personal connection to the food they’re eating.